Not the Buffalo Bills.
I won’t lie. I’m not fully into this new era of Buffalo Bills football. When the Baltimore Ravens kicked a field goal with 4:04 remaining to cut their deficit to three points and following a stagnant Buffalo three-and-out got the ball back at their own 27 with 2:20 and two timeouts, I’m sure hoards of Bills fans braced themselves for their obligatory punch in the gut, courtesy of the organization over in Orchard Park.
But maybe this is truly the dawning of a new era in the organization. Unlike countless heartbreaking endings felt in Western New York before, rookie linebacker magically picked off his second Joe Flacco pass of the game and the team’s fifth as the Bills held on to beat the defending Super Bowl champions, 20-20 to even their season record at 2-2.
After failing to generate much heat on New York Jets rookie Geno Smith last week, who picked the Bills defense apart, the story was quite different this afternoon. Flacco was sacked four times and pressured/hit on several occasions. It led to a career-high five interceptions, including two each by Alonso and defensive back Aaron Williams, who’s clearly turning around his career in a positive direction. Jim Leonhard had the other interception.
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel continued to struggle at times but looked brilliant at others. He completed 10-of-22 passes for 167 yards and a beautiful 42-yard touchdown strike to fellow rookie Robert Woods. Manuel did throw two interceptions and lost a fumble, showing that while he’s continue to improve and grasp the NFL speed, there’s plenty of work to do.
Woods caught four passes for a team-high 80 yards. Woods now has 11 catches for 201 yards and two scores at the quarter-point of his first season in the NFL.
Of course, the most productive rookie continues to be Alonso. He had an interception for a third consecutive game and already has four on the season to go with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and a sack. It’s safe to say he’s quickly making a big name for himself around the league…and become a folk hero amongst fans.
Buffalo’s success was based largely in the running game, with Fred Jackson gaining 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and C.J. Spiller adding 77 yards on 23 carries. Unfortunately both have to deal with injuries. Jackson sprained his MCL, though he says he’ll be ready to play next Thursday in Cleveland. Spiller’s diagnosis wasn’t as promising, telling reporters in the locker room it may be “tough” for him to be able to play next week after spraining an ankle.
In total, the Bills ran the ball 55 times, their most rushing attempts since facing Washington in November of 1996.
The Bills defense was literally dominant; allowing just 24 rushing yards to Baltimore on nine carries as the Ravens completely abandoned trying to run the ball in the second half.
But the real story of the game was Buffalo’s secondary. The (often) beaten and battered bunch stepped up against Baltimore to produce three of the team’s five interceptions. They’ll need Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Jairus Byrd—none played Sunday back as soon as possible. But for one game, at least, they held their own and made their share of plays when the team desperately needed it.
At 2-2, the Bills next travel to Cleveland to face the similar 2-2 Browns in a prime time matchup next Thursday night. While the contest surely gave NFL Network executives nightmares not long ago, suddenly the game should have significant interest. The Bills have been involved in close games in all four of their contests, and the left-for-dead Browns have run off two wins in a row after impressively defeating Cincinnati this afternoon.
Check back as we’ll have plenty more from one of the more Bills significant regular season victories in recent memory.